South Dakota’s Minutemen were on-alert 24-7 for thirty years. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limited the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads either country could possess. It also allowed each side to preserve sites for historical purposes. Months later, the Soviet Union dissolved, and with it, many of the tensions of the Cold War. Both nations had spent enormous sums on nuclear defenses they never launched in anger, but the long, unwinnable stalemate that ensued successfully averted a war of massive devastation on a global scale.
South Dakota’s missiles were the first taken off alert. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty dictated that silos be destroyed and filled with rubble and soil. The Air Force even allowed some former landowners to push the button that imploded the site themselves, before eventually selling the land back to them.
Delta-09 offers an unprecedented opportunity to see a Cold War ICBM in its original setting, and to contemplate the role of nuclear deterrence in preserving peace. It is the story of the Cold War and how it impacted generations of Americans who grew up under the tangible threat of Soviet communism. It is the oft-overlooked saga of courageous men and women serving thanklessly and unseen in the United States Air Force missile fields, and the story of the people of western South Dakota who lived alongside Armageddon.
But while this chapter has ended, the story is not over. Harsh international realities persist, thus U.S. nuclear deterrence continues. Thousands of young Airmen supporting 400 Minuteman III missiles remain on alert across the Great Plains. These missiles are scheduled to be operational through the year 2030.
We hope you enjoyed your tour of Delta-09. Continue your visit at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center 15 miles east of here at Exit 131. There you’ll find more tour information, view our orientation film, explore exhibits, and visit our bookstore. Don’t forget Delta-01 Launch Control Facility at exit 127. Tours of that site require advanced reservations. To provide feedback about this tour, please press star (*) zero (0).